Crimson Tide look to get their running game going at home against the Golden Eagles
The Alabama Crimson Tide return home this week as they welcome in Conference USA foe, Southern Miss. Bama is coming off of a 47-23 road victory at South Carolina. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw for a career-high 444 yards, the third most in program history, as well as five touchdowns in the 24-point win. The Golden Eagles are coming off of a 47-42 road victory at Troy as senior quarterback Jack Abraham threw for 463 yards and two scores in the victory.
Southern Miss has already faced an SEC West team this season, losing to Mississippi State 38-15 two weeks ago. The Golden Eagles also are no stranger to facing Alabama. The Crimson Tide lead the series 34-6-2 and have won the past five meetings, the most recent being a 52-12 victory in 2014.
Southern Miss at Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 21 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Alabama -39
When Southern Mississippi Has the Ball
Jack Abraham is the catalyst for the Golden Eagles offense. The senior quarterback already has thrown for 990 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. He leads Conference USA in passing yards per game but Southern Miss is second to last in the conference when it comes to running the ball (106.0 ypg, 13th). Kevin Perkins is the leading rusher with just 88 yards on the ground. As a team, the Golden Eagles are averaging 3.2 yards per carry. Alabama may be giving up 114.3 rushing yards per game, but teams have had to earn those yards (3.7 per carry) and the Crimson Tide have yet to surrender a touchdown on the ground.
Abraham has already connected with 10 different receivers this season. Jaylond Adams leads the way with 18 receptions (for 257 yards) while Jordan Mitchell has a team-high 295 receiving yards. But Quez Watkins may be the one to keep an eye on Saturday. Last week against Troy, Watkins exploded for 209 yards and two touchdowns on just seven catches, meaning he averaged nearly 30 yards per reception. Southern Miss will need as many big plays as it can muster against an Alabama defense that's giving up just 12 points per game.
When Alabama Has the Ball
Much like last week, the same goal remains for the Crimson Tide – establishing the run. Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian know what they have at quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, but the ground attack remains a valid question. Alabama continues to struggle running the ball. Last week, Najee Harris, amassed a total of 36 yards on seven carries, while Brian Robinson totaled 33 yards on eight attempts. The Crimson Tide have yet to have a 100-yard rusher in a game. Alabama is 3-0, but remains largely untested due to the quality of opponent faced thus far. So the lack of dominance at the line of scrimmage has to be a legit concern to the coaches. For the season, Harris leads the team with 156 rushing yards and Robinson has 99. This will need to improve as the schedule gets tougher.
Southern Miss has done a good job against the run so far (104.7 ypg), but the Golden Eagles also gave up 201 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to Mississippi State two weeks ago.
Consider this the final tune-up for the Crimson Tide before Nick Saban's team enters the meat of their SEC slate. There were definitive teaching moments for Saban last week, as South Carolina put up more resistance than many expected. You can guarantee that Saban used those moments for emphasis this week and will look for a complete performance from his team. Don't be surprised to see Southern Miss try to take the same approach Will Muschamp did last week with his Gamecocks. The Golden Eagles have nothing to lose, but lose they will. Alabama starts fast and never looks back.
Prediction: Alabama 52, Southern Miss 13
— Written by Nick Kayal, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as a college football and NFL writer. Nick is a Morning Show Host in Nashville on 102.5 The Game. Follow him on Twitter @NickKayal.